Thursday, December 1, 2011

More Moloka’i

Kaunakakai is a state run commercial and small boat harbor in the center of the south coast of Moloka’i. It is easy to be grateful when safely anchored in 11-ft of flat calm water at the end of the large natural channel through the reef now used as a barge turning basin, as the winds howl and the lumpy Pailolo Channel waves and gale force winds roll by just outside the harbor entrance marks. We hadn’t expected to make it back to Moloka’i at all, so gladly took this chance to hide from fresh trade winds and experience other parts of this special island.

Our first morning we awoke to the sunrise and two tugs towing a large barge. It was fascinating to watch the professional captains working together to bring the gigantic barge in and docking it without mishap. We were hanging ever so slightly into the channel and it was surreal to see the barge headed directly toward us so close (maybe 100-ft!), only at the last moment to be redirected by the two tugs. It was enough for us to pull up the anchor and move from our comfortable 18-ft depth closer to shore, settling for a location in 11-ft but certainly out of the way. Now anchored in shallower waters with an obvious reef a mere 300-ft W, Chris took Fatty and our lead-line to manually depth sound around Tao and scope out possible places to leave Fatty while we explored ashore. He met a very welcoming local man on the beach at the N end of the harbor who assured us it was fine to leave our dinghy under the shade of a tree among the canoe club’s outriggers.

Kaunakakai, the most populous place on all of Molaka’i, is a one street town without even a stoplight. The 1,900-ft long pier is always teeming with people, and besides serving as the island's only barge depot, it seems to be a place that locals come to get away from the island. With approximately 6K permanent residents on the island, everyone knows everyone else and therefore everyone knew that we were visitors. Most folks we met were extraordinarily welcoming, which is possibly where Molokai's title as “The Friendly Isle” comes from. In this little town, there are still two groceries, a few restaurants, a bakery, a baseball field, a community center and the only two gas stations on the island. Refreshingly, there were none of the “every town” stores like CostCo, McDonalds, or Starbucks. We caught the free MEO bus (subsidized by Maui County) to the airport where we picked up a rental car from noon Monday to noon Tuesday. We managed to drive 130-miles of the paved roads on this approximately 36-mile long and 6-mile wide island.

Monday highlights included (1) the Kalaupapa Overlook on the N-center of the island, where wet windward weather whipped over the island, and through the moist haze we could see the spot we had previously anchored downwind of the peninsula (2) a short hike to the island’s sacred Phallic Rock (3) scrumptious plate lunch in the center of the island at the Kualapu’u Cookhouse (4) Maunaloa Town, a small plantation village at the W end in the hills above the coast (from which a 4WD road leads down to Hale-O-Lono Harbor), where we checked out the Big Wind Kite Factory, and finally our favorite (5) Papohaku Beach, located just two miles south of where we had previously anchored behind Ilio Point on W Moloka’i. We walked the deserted 3-mile long beach and had fun taking yoga pictures as the sun set and waves slammed into the coast.

Tuesday morning we took the only paved road along the south and east edge of Moloka’i. We stopped frequently at scenic vistas and points of interest along the way, until the road’s terminus in Halawa Valley, where two stunning waterfalls run year round. Each point we stopped at had its own charm and perspective, with spectacular views of Lanai, Maui, and Halawa Valley from afar. There is definitely much more to the island of Moloka’i; hiking trails, 4WD roads, high mountains, amazing surfing and snorkeling along Hawaii’s longest continuous coral reef which follows Molokai’s southern shore for 28 miles. But, we are appreciative to have gotten to tour as much as we did.

While here we had the extraordinary opportunity to witness firsthand, a stark line being drawn between two distinct factions among the islands residents; those who would welcome change and those who would like to keep Moloka’i as it is. Our first encounter involved the debate over whether to allow a charter yacht, the Safari Explorer, to arrive and tie up to the large pier at Kaunakakai Harbor and allow her nearly 40 guests to disembark and tour the island. Early Saturday morning, November 26th, we witnessed the Safari Explorer attempting to enter the outer channel at Kaunakakai immediately following the large barge and two tugs. After the barge had been secured, two small trailerable motor vessels packed with protesters, each flying huge flags, zipped by us out the entrance channel toward the Safari Explorer and literally chased them off (later we learned that the vessel visited Lanai that day instead). Late that night we were awakened by the noise and lights of the Safari Explorer as it finally made a successful bid to dock at the pier. The next morning we awoke to a large group of people loudly protesting the yacht's presence, yelling “Go Home!” and “No Cruise Ships!” At the same time, we saw a group of supporters waving signs saying, “Welcome to Molokai!” while the Safari Explorer’s guests passed by in vans heading onshore to see the sites. As far as we can tell, there exists both fierce support and opposition to this change, and a lot of misunderstanding between everyone.

Our second experience was a bit closer to home. We witnessed what we assume was a deep-set expression of frustration and anger when one particular islander decided he had a bone to pick with the captain of the sailboat moored next to us (who has been living aboard in the water's of Moloka’i for years). He screamed from the pier next to his small pickup truck (likely in a drug induced state) about his woes and how this “haole” had messed with the wrong Hawaiian. He ranted consistently from just after midnight until dawn interspersing threats to our neighbor sailboat that made us quite uncomfortable. We witnessed the police come twice to speak to him and both times he took up again after they disappeared. Although his ire was not specifically directed at us, we felt threatened and unwelcome none-the-less. (NOTE we did learn something from getting Seahor stolen as we solidly chose not to confront someone obviously aggressive). It is a difficult situation because there are deep divides among today’s island residents. Most people have made us feel welcome in Hawaii. However, we admit to several times having felt the underlying assumption that we are welcome only as long as we are also leaving soon, and are often well aware that here we are malihini (newcomers). Hawaii became the 50th US state in 1959, and merely 50-yrs later, it is no surprise that there is still deep unrest running through the islands. All of that said, we do not presume to really understand at all...

What we do know is that overall we have had many more positive interactions than negative around the Hawaiian Islands and on Moloka’i in particular, so we choose not to let one experience dampen our special feelings for it. Instead, we feel lucky to have been close enough to witness the beauty of the island as well as some of the struggles faced by the people who live in Hawaii today. We stayed in Kaunakakai one more day, organized the boat to sail, bought a few freshies, and caught up on sleep the next night in preparation for a passage to the close neighbor island of Lanai.

1 comment:

  1. My belated response: You are now safely back on the Big Island. Thanks for sharing your malihini thoughts and experiences; more to come as you proceed westward . . . . Enjoy, listen, and cherish . . . .